On that letter to Ango Abdullahi

Prof. Ango Abdullahi

I read the open letter to Ango Abdullahi by B.I.C Ijomah in The Guardian of June 29, 2017. The antics of the learned professor these days, honestly, need not be defended. Elders should sit on the throne to guide development and not to destroy. He seems to be in the news for the wrong reasons even after a tour-of-duty as Vice Chancellor of a prestigious university. It is saddening. I had to read the writer’s essay a second time, for it was rich and well-researched. Although I felt he was too emotional and somewhat derisive, his style didn’t detract from the import. But like true-life, as the rundown may be, it was one-sided. You could feel the disrespect for the north which is typical of some southern-educated behemoths that see the north as backward. How then do you envisage achieving a meaningful end when you work with discourteous stereotypes?

Sorry! But the writer was no different from Professor Ango Abdullahi. No disrespect intended. I respect writers. There are questions arising from the writer’s essay, that a rookie like me would love to ask and grey areas I would also love to cover for the sake of development. Why did General Gowon Yakubu renege on the Aburi accord? Regrettably both Yakubu and Colonel Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu never gave reasons and generations are the worse for it. Even though both adversaries became friends until the death of Ojukwu, raconteurs have had jobs today spewing lies, out-cursing people and doctoring tales as they see fit, to deceive people who don’t care squat for research.

I am not as cerebral as the author with facts, and so should be tolerated if my questions and deductions are off-key. Would it be fitting to say Aburi accord was abrogated by Gowon because Ojukwu made the fundamental mistake of letting drop beforehand to his lieutenants before the conference in Ghana that he was going to cede the oil wells in the minority region of eastern Nigeria to French companies in a confederacy?

Walls, they say, have ears. He carried out the same action when he declared outright cessation from the republic. Recall that prospectors, The Royal Dutch Shell, were in a joint venture with the government and never paid the federal government royalties for oil until after the civil war? Isn’t it rational for businessmen to enjoy the fruits of their labour before expulsion? Had they at that time? Maybe Ojukwu made Nigeria a boiling Cauldron for international politics by taking a decision which leaked and Gowon was hamstrung by western powers not to accede to confederation? Maybe. Besides, you need to negotiate from a position of strength in the same way that President Goodluck Jonathan negotiated from strength to abrogate a rotational presidency after agreeing to serve one term.

I gather that the Catholic Church was so partisan that it garnered overseas support before and during the war and provided ammunition while hiding under the radar of providing relief materials to a region that the Church saw as its own. It seems that the Church was as partisan as the Baptist and Methodist Churches that supported the Ku Klux Klan’s evil against Jews and Blacks in U.S. in the 1920s.‬ Could Gowon in Aburi have read the open letters of protestation by Delta greats such as Harold Dappa-Biriye and others who didn’t want confederacy because of the lack of ideological orientation which excluded them from life in the east? This was made worse by the fact that no son of Rivers and elsewhere (except for Akwa Ibom) was in the governing council of the republic. And by the brutality most felt at the hands of the soldiery. But again in war, wasn’t Ojukwu presented with a golden chance for confederation by the founding fathers of OAU Habib Bourguiba – and others who were prepared to give Gowon Hobson’s choice but Ojukwu refused, insisting on sovereignty? Was that not why Azikiwe Nnamdi, and Ralph Uwechue and one other prominent lawyer whose name I can’t remember now (mental block) swore allegiance on principle?

The writer also engaged in the animus of describing the north as backward, a region subsidised by the British during colonial rule to the detriment of the south. He provided data which I don’t have. Please indulge me a little as I rack my brain. I am passionate about this section. Call a young southerner, ask him his views about the north. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that they are a bunch of illiterate people. They have been so indoctrinated. Nothing can change that but quality education. One good thing about life, is that historians have chronicled the lives of people and of places even in the medieval era. Nigeria is no different.

Before colonial government, in some regions, people lived in groups of twenty people per village. In others, some people weren’t politically organised, never invented anything, nor conquered any people or land. We were just a plain people that didn’t alter the course of civilisation. So much about being a great people in great regions. That being said, the Hausa-Fulani emirates of that era in the 19th century in scale and political complexity were equal to the kingdoms of medieval Europe. This was the reason that it was easy for the British to ban mission activity in the north and to fashion an administrative policy which maintained the emirs as agents of local administration, unlike in the south. That decision today proved to be the region’s albatross. If only they hadn’t been educationally deprived.‬

The British might not have subsidised the north as alluded by the writer, of course with data, for free. Could they have done? Couldn’t it have been for the ease of marketing of cash crops, groundnuts which the north had in abundance and also in the business of lorry transportation. Or did Cocoa and Palm-Oil products in scale become more important than groundnut? Racking the brain here. I see it as an investment for dividends. What do you think? How come people from the prosperous south moved northwards for jobs until the 1960s when northerners began to resent exclusion from jobs? Couldn’t it be said that it was so because there were fewer jobs in the south then? Other than Lagos, are there jobs everywhere except for jobs in the civil service?

There you go again. Education right? We may have to thank the British, in the same way that the British have to thank the Romans for 350 years of subjugation. In the 1920s with all of the southern braggadocio – Nigeria had only thirty graduates, fifteen of whom were lawyers and thirteen were doctors and mostly resident in Lagos. Has any researcher been able to identify which part of Nigeria these people came from, apart from Sapara Williams whose record is in the public domain for being the first Nigerian to be called to the British Bar in the late 19th century? In 1945, less than two hundred Nigerians pursued overseas education. This respectable paper wouldn’t allow strong language else I would have vented spleens. Why are we too cocky in Nigeria? Has our so-called ingenuity led us to producing a bicycle?

The writer enthused thus “You will also recall that after the civil war, the regional autonomy which our independence conferred on us was violated by the military government led by the Northern soldiers. We ended up having this contraption that we are having now; it has not worked. It will not work, unless there is proper restructuring of the nation. We should stop pretending” He was wrong there. General Aguiyi Ironsi (that good man) was badly advised by top senior civil servants to unify the administration of the country to upstage the NPC from dominating the country. It worked, but he paid with his life. The north frowned at a unitary system planned initially to cage them. Gowon surprisingly upheld it for ease of administration which the north benefits from today and wouldn’t let go. The military and the north have yet to apologize to Ironsi for this injustice. Why isn’t he on our currency?


If we are to accept the yarn about subsidy and a burdensome North, how was the north able to contribute a huge sum of about €46 million in 1963 to the Northern marketing board? And how was the north/west able to contribute to the prosecution of a war without money from oil even though the war efforts were driven by interests in oil?‬ Apart from Lagos state, all regions in Nigeria went from being rich to beggarly regions partly due to the discovery of oil in the south. The way some people write, you would almost be tempted to conclude that there was/is not a single resourceful ‬ northerner at any time in our history.‬ Sir Ahmadu Bello like many leaders of his time had many failings as well as pluses. He was once credited with saying, ‪“I believe all leaders from the regions of this country believe in the unity ‪of Nigeria and if we all come out together as one our differences will be‪ sorted out for national growth.” Could we look along those lines to reach‪ compromises?

How old were Gowon and Ojukwu when they led this country to war? Today, we might call them children right? Why should old men allow children to lead us to another war? Especially since those children were well fed during the war and had petrol in their cars while people died. The reason many had the luxury of time to write books about the war is because they didn’t suffer. Those who suffer don’t like to relive history.

Abah wrote from Port Harcourt.




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